What Happened to That Wedding Gift?

Today is my 24th wedding anniversary. And thankfully we’re not only still in love, we also still like each other enough to stand being quarantined together.

Two decades plus somehow feels like both a lifetime and maybe two weeks. Time is slippery that way. Adding to the sense that we just got married is the fact that we’re still using quite a few of our wedding gifts! Makes me feel like a good steward 😉

So today, as so many of us are once again hunkered down at home, I thought I’d revisit some of the stuff we unwrapped lo these many years ago:

  • Waffle Iron – My cousin Susie got this for us. Not only do we still enjoy Sunday morning waffles, but that thing makes a mean hash brown!
  • Three Brass Candlesticks – These were from our best man and his wife. Very elegant, they sat on the mantle in the first house we shared and continue to have a place of pride in the living room today.
  • Blue Pottery Sugar & Creamer – I think Jim’s cousin Todd gave us these. I don’t think they’ve ever actually held sugar or cream, but they sure look nice on the knick-knack shelf in the kitchen.
  • Silver Dresser Caddy – No picture of this one–too tarnished! But a VERY traditional gift from the very traditional Virginia Hoover. She was the keeper of everyone’s history back in my part of West Virginia.
  • Floral Throw – Dad’s best friend Danny sent us this. Still use it to snuggle on the couch on chilly days!
  • KitchenAid Mixer – A gift from Mom. I specified cobalt blue not realizing I was marrying a man who had an opinion about the color of kitchen appliances. I found out, though!

There are other items scattered about the house. Things we’ve held on to and took the time to pack when we moved from SC to NC. But I think they’re more than things. They’re a small testament–witnesses even–of 24 years of life lived together.

Friends and family invested in gifts to celebrate us and to get us started off right. It was a good investment. And I’m so blessed to get to enjoy the dividends of loving and living with this wonderful man each and every day.

wedding day

Here’s to another 24.

Appalachian Thursday – COVID Characters

Lots of folks are coming up with creative ways to keep busy (and maybe distracted) during all of this self-quarantining time. Which got me to thinking about how some of my characters might handle being stuck at home. Turns out, several of them would fit right in these days. So here I am reading a few snippets featuring characters cooking at home, cutting their own hair, and more for Family Fiction Magazine.

Taking Refuge in Poetry

April is National Poetry Month, which seems particularly fitting this April. I’ve been reading a fair amount of Wendell Berry’s poetry lately. Always a favorite, his work is a particularly welcome refuge these strange days. And, reading his poetry usually makes me want to dig back into my own.

So here, for poetry month, is a poem of mine that feels right in these uncertain days. No matter how many novels I write, I’ll always have a fondness for the sweet brevity and emotional punch of a poem.

QUAKER LADIES

I once read something about how
the meek would inherit the earth
and it must be true—only look.

Every child knows the bright names of
Daisy and Buttercup sunning themselves
in mountain meadows.
Black-eyed Susan winks and waves.

But here, in grown over tracks,
on top of cold, windy mountains
where color is afraid to show,
you’ll find these.
Bluets the book says under
a picture of almost nothing.
Bluets for bare tinged petals
cupping a warm yellow center
like a pat of butter—like light.

Now leave the book and ask just folks.
They’ll call them Quaker Ladies
and I prefer the peaceful point of that.

Nature sows blankets, foamy and soft.
You’ll want to sink down
in how sweet and simple they are—
like something that already knows
how the world will turn out.

An Unusual Anniversary (Fear Not)

Today is my anniversary.

Not of my birth or my wedding, but of my stroke. On April 15, 2016, I went to work like usual and as I was addressing an envelope at my desk I . . . fell out. You can read about that experience HERE.

In that post, I mentioned that having a stroke is the sort of life event that would continue to echo through my life for a long time. And it has. But not as expected (because what EVER happens the way you expect??).

At the time, I felt certain having a stroke would be some sort of watershed moment. There would be a definite before and after. Not so much. Basically, after my week-long recovery (translation: laying around letting friends and family spoil me), my life picked up where I left off on the 15th.

So how does having a stroke continue to resonate? Fear. Or rather the lack thereof.

Fifteen years ago I had a severe allergic reaction to a yellow jacket sting. It was the most terrifying thing to ever happen to me. And the fear held on afterwards. Tight.

Not so with the stroke. I was never afraid. Confused, uneasy about my numb hand, tired, troubled about medication–but mostly I felt safe and well cared for. Loved. At peace.

And that’s a Holy Spirit thing y’all.

Because He was the main difference between the two events. I was on my own with the bee sting, with the stroke I had the Spirit to comfort me.

The only lingering effect of my stroke is some numbness in the tip of my left index finger and the side of the middle finger closest to it. The neurologist said to give it a year and if the feeling didn’t return it probably wouldn’t. Hello new normal.

And I’m glad.

That funny, tight feeling and lack of fine sensation is a wonderful reminder that with God I have nothing to fear. I’m safe even when I’m not comfortable (and who is these days!?!). When scary things happen–a bee sting, a pandemic, all sorts of loss–I can tap that numb index finger and whisper, “fear not, fear not, fear not.”

Because so long as I am His, fear is transient and love is eternal.

Isaiah 41:10 – So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. 

40 Days and Nights

Did you know quarantine comes form the Italian, quarantina, meaning 40 days?

Hellebores – Lenten Roses

Having just concluded the 40 days of Lent by celebrating Easter, that number seems particularly significant. And it is–there are quite a few Biblical 40s:

  • After Noah shut up the ark, it rained for 40 days and nights.
  • Moses led the Israelites through the dessert for 40 years.
  • Jonah, once he finally stopped running, preached to Nineveh for 40 days.
  • Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan.

Forty is significant and often indicates a time of testing–of stress or even of distress. Here in North Carolina our “stay at home” order went into effect March 30 and is to last 30 days, until April 29 (barring any changes!). So not even a full quarantine.

And yet, it feels like it’s already gone on for weeks and weeks. Which gives me some added perspective. Noah and his family watched rain fall for 40 days. Man, I get twitchy if it rains for more than a day. Jesus didn’t eat or drink for way longer than I’ve been adjusting my schedule. And the devil was picking at him along the way.

Forty days is a long time when you’re in it. But what about when the time’s up? In all those Biblical examples, some pretty astonishing things happened at the end of the “quarantina.”

  • The water began to recede and Noah and his family started over–completely!
  • The Israelites came to the promised land.
  • Nineveh turned to God.
  • Jesus began thee years of intense ministry leading to his crucifixion.

So, while this time is difficult, painful, stressful, and filled with uncertainty–what if it’s also the beginning of something new? I think we’re all craving “normal” right now. But what if this weird, unprecedented time is ushering us into something better than normal? What if we carry the lessons we’re learning–the hard way–into a new way of living?

I don’t know how that would look. I don’t know what God has in store. But as we move out of Lent and into Ordinary Time I’m thinking about what can happen in 40 days–what can change. And I have high hopes that it will be worth the wait.

Appalachian Thursday – How Does Your Garden Grow?

I think we’re all looking for good news these days. A hint of a silver lining in the midst of all the craziness in the world. And I think I’ve found one!

Growing up, we had a full-on summer garden. Potatoes, sugar peas, lettuces, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, beans, and so on. We ate, we harvested, we canned, and we preserved. And while I don’t plant a vegetable garden anymore, I like to dabble.

A pot of herbs on the porch. Cherry tomatoes in the flower bed. Some sweet peas on a trellis. And this year, I had the notion to plant a few seed potatoes. I went on-line to order some (since the ones at the grocery store are neutered–a topic for another time!).

No potatoes. Only one kind of sweet pea remained. And the cucumber choices were slim. What’s up?

Turns out this pandemic business has been a boon for garden centers. People are planting gardens and snapping up any plant that produces food. Which I think is fantastic!! Not to mention the people buying up laying hens for backyard coops.

Now, I doubt people are planning to suddenly grow all their own food. Much less butcher their own chickens. But I find this turn hugely encouraging. I’ve been an advocate of locally grown, seasonal food for a long time. Asparagus in the spring. Peaches and blackberries in the summer. Acorn squash in the fall.

I’m not going to pretend that I’ll refuse some good looking okra in February. Or that I’ve never indulged in a blueberry from South America. But I do pay attention to where (and when) my produce is sourced and much prefer some spring greens picked right here in Western NC to a bag of pre-washed whatever from Florida or California.

So I’ll plant my peas on a trellis and make a hill for cucumbers between the cone flowers and the lilac. This spring, it almost feels like an act of solidarity with everyone else who’s trying their hand at growing something good to eat.

And what, after all, is more hopeful than planting a seed?

Glad That’s Over!

Last week I wrote about my impending ablation to hopefully correct a heart arrhythmia. Phew! Glad that’s behind me!

But as NOT fun as it was, what was absolutely GREAT was the number of people who let me know they were praying for me and rooting for good results. So today, I just want to say THANK YOU. We still have to wait three months to know if this thing really worked, but I’m optimistic.

I also want to thank the incredible medical professionals who did everything they could to make a pretty traumatic experience less so. Just a few of them include:

  • Pam – She did my labs on Monday. She became a phlebotomist because her daughter was born with a disorder that required LOTS of blood tests. Pam saw how all too often it was painful and decided she could do better. And she did–my stick didn’t hurt at all!
  • Todd – As I settled on the table for my procedure my hair was bothering me. Todd tucked it away in one of those green caps even though I was OUT about 10 seconds later. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t there to tend to my hair, but I sure appreciated it!
  • Manny – He was the orderly who figured out how to turn off the bedside lights that were shining in my eyes. He also brought cups of water and just about anything else I needed.
  • Maggie May & Kayla – My nurses. They did super fun things like remove my sutures and help me pee. Nurses are the BEST people in the world!
  • Kayla – Yes, I had two Kaylas. She did my final echocardiogram to determine if I could go home. While she wasn’t allowed to tell me what she saw on her screen, the smile she gave me as she left made me think I’d be sleeping in my own bed that night–and I was!
  • And, of course, Dr. Lappe – He did the procedure and handled a few curve balls my heart threw him. Then he told me I looked far too well to be in the hospital and gave me confidence that I’m going to come through all of this just fine.

These are stressful, strange days we’re living in. Even more so for folks in the medical field. I am SO deeply grateful for each and every person who’s walked alongside me thus far. Thank you.

Bless My Appalachian Heart

A couple of weeks ago I posted about my challenges dealing with atrial fibrillation. Well, since then, the issue has gotten worse. And so, in the midst of the country being in various types of quarantine, I’m going into the hospital today (just for one night) to see if we can’t fix this thing once and for all!

Family photo
Grandma Burla would be telling me to be thankful for my health! Wish she were still her to bless my heart.

I’m having a procedure called a catheter ablation. An amazing doctor will use a catheter to slip inside my heart and ZAP it. Don’t worry, he does this all the time.

And, in a weird way, this is turning out to be a great time to do this. In my part of the country we’ve been fortunate to see only a handful of COVID-19 cases. With so many procedures and appointments cancelled, the heart ward is actually pretty quiet. And, since I’m already working from home, the recovery time will have less impact on my job.

Win, win–right?

Still, we’re talking my heart here. So if you’re the praying sort, I sure would appreciate your prayers that all goes well, the procedure works, and I recover quickly. And while you’re at it–maybe say a prayer for anyone else who has to be in the hospital these days . . .

How many times has an Appalachian granny, aunt, or momma said, “If you have your health, you have everything.” I rolled my eyes when I was a kid. Now, I think, we can ALL agree that grandma was right.

Proverbs 3:7-8 – Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.

What I Hope We Learn About Sacrifice

I’ve aimed to keep my coronavirus-related posts on the light-hearted side. There’s plenty of gloom and doom without my adding to it. I rarely watch the news anymore and just go to a few, trusted sources for my updates.

One of those is the Worldometer. This is a nifty site that simply provides raw data without people chiming in to comment on what it means. What a relief! I’d been checking their coronavirus page periodically, when I decided to check out the other world data. I thought it would be a fun exercise.

I was wrong.

There IS some fun information:

  • Babies born this year (well over 33 million already)
  • Bicycles produced this year (more than 36 million–guess all those new babies will have bicycles)
  • Books published this year (nearly 650,000 already–phew!)
  • Emails sent in ONE day (nearly 140 BILLION by lunchtime on a Saturday)

But then I scrolled down to categories like food, water, and health. And suddenly the not quite 30,000 deaths (as of 3/28/2020) from coronavirus took on a new reality when I considered the following:

  • 16,300+ people died of hunger on Saturday alone
  • 200,000+ people have died from water-bourne illnesses this year
  • 116,500+ have died of the flu this year
  • 1.2 million have died as a result of smoking
  • 600,000 from alcohol-related causes
  • 257,000+ have committed suicide
  • 323,500+ have been killed in car accidents
  • And there have been 10.2 million abortions in the first three months of 2020

I am in no way suggesting that we take coronavirus lightly. I’m glad we’re finally taking the spread of disease seriously. I’ve been a serious hand-washer for years. But I look at what we’ve been willing to sacrifice to save lives and I have to wonder, why has it taken us so long?

We’re willing to work remotely, teach our children at home, stop going to church, nearly shut down our economy, and completely alter the way we live. And I’m sure this is saving lives. But what are we willing to sacrifice to feed the 842 million people who are currently undernourished? To supply clean water for the 802 million people who don’t have access to it? To support and help the millions of women who feel their only option is abortion? (I’m not trying to start a pro-life or pro-choice argument here–I hope we can ALL agree that helping women never to have to make such a decision is a GOOD thing.)

I’ve searched my own heart. And I’m afraid my reason for giving more attention to coronavirus than to any of these other issues is that I’m not going to catch hunger, or lack of access to water. I’m not planning to start smoking cigarettes or drinking until I have cirrhosis. I’m not going to infect someone I love with an unplanned pregnancy by failing to wash my hands or keep my distance.

Friends. This is not a light-hearted moment. This is me pondering what I’m willing to sacrifice even after this pandemic is over. When we’re back to hugging and shaking hands. When the economy has recovered. When the kids are back in school and we’re having too many meetings at work will I pause to consider the pandemics that aren’t quite so obvious? And if–when–I do, what sacrifices will I make?

Appalachian Thursday – Covid Cuisine

Once again, Appalachia is ahead of the curve.

You’uns come get some beans and cornbread!

Last week, when people began taking this whole coronavirus business more seriously (aka panicking a wee bit), the grocery stores were hit hard. There were the usual suspects–milk and bread–but folks also started buying staples like they were planning to set up a basement shelter to wait out the apocalypse.

As I did my own shopping I noted a dearth of canned goods–especially tomatoes for some reason. And the dried bean section, typically overlooked and under-utilized, was down to a few bags of limas and some lentils.

Which inspired a friend of mine to predict that in six months or so the food pantries are going to be overwhelmed with dried bean donations. Unless you live in West Virginia where the state dish is beans and cornbread (or should be!).

My parents, my grandparents, and many folks still living in WV today wouldn’t need to run to the store to stock up in an emergency. When I was a kid, our cellar was full of canned fruit and vegetables (green beans, tomatoes, peaches, pears, and oh the jellies!). There was also a bin of potatoes. A chest freezer was full of venison and pork. We had chickens for eggs and the occasional Sunday fryer. Daisy gave us milk, cream, and butter.

Don’t get me wrong. We certainly shopped at Krogers. It’s not like we were grinding our own flour or raising sugar cane. But we certainly wouldn’t have gone hungry for a long time!

Which brings me back to all those beans and what you should do with them. Mom would have soaked them overnight and cooked them low and slow on the back burner of the stove all day. But I have a trick for PERFECT beans every time.

Dump your one pound bag of dried beans in a slow cooker and add 4-5 cups of water. Throw in a ham hock or a few strips of bacon and I like to add a couple of bay leaves. Turn the cooker on low and after about six hours make sure the water is still covering the beans. If it’s getting low, add enough to cover. You can give it a stir if you like. After eight hours the beans should be perfectly soft and creamy. Add salt and LOTS of pepper. Serve alongside (or over!) some hot, buttered cornbread.

There now. That’ll hold you a long time!

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